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The price of wine

We've just finished tasting the second batch of wine. I now have 112 reviews up on Ocado, although I've actually written notes for 129 bottles since 21st April: some are for wines which are no longer in stock and some are for wines from other sources.

I've been thinking recently about how wine varies with price. My instinct is that the best value for money is found at around £7-8 a bottle. Wine at £5 a bottle is usually not good value for money. If a bottle of wine costs £5, then £2.73 is tax. Of the remaining £2.27, some must go to the retailer, with some more for the cost of the bottle and some more for shipping, which suggests that the wine itself is probably costing around £1 at best. I suspect that one reason wine journalists frequently recommend dodgy bottles is that they come under pressure from their editors to recommend bottles for a fiver or less, when really very few of these are any good. There are a couple though: in particular I like Gran López Tinto and Cuvée Pêcheur. Of course, when wine is good at such a low price, the value for money is excellent. However, nasty wine is not good value at any price.

At £7.50 a bottle, £3.15 is tax, and the costs of bottling and shipping remain much the same, so the wine itself may be costing about £2.50, or 150% more than for the £5 bottle. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot more good options at this price point, particularly when you take into account that bottles which notionally retail at £10 often get marked down to £7.50 or £8. Indeed, you could probably drink very happily without ever spending more than £7.50 on a bottle, and that is in fact our budget for every-day wine.

Looking over my spread-sheet, I continue to rate a significant number of bottles as good value for money up to £13 a bottle. Is a £13 bottle worth as much as two £6.50 bottles? Well, in fact, £6.50 is an unusual price point, but I think the comparison more or less holds. Above £13, value for money does tend to tail off: a £26 bottle is going to struggle to be twice as good as a £13 bottle.

That said, there are some categories of wine where you are likely to be disappointed if you are paying less than £20 a bottle: Chablis, red Burgundy, Champagne, anything from the northern Rhône and Rioja. At certain times of the year, supermarkets pile up huge displays of Champagne, claiming an implausible discount (often 50%), for prices well below £20. Don't buy it. Just don't. You might as well throw the money away. On the other hand, good Champagne is incomparable; nothing else tastes quite like it, so if you want that taste, you have to pay what it costs (I recommend this). Pretty much the same is true for the other wines I mentioned. In particular, there is a lot of cheap Rioja about: none of it tastes like Rioja and none of it is good value compared with tempranillo based blends from other Spanish regions.

In restaurants, a rule of thumb is that the wine costs three times the retail price, so £20-£40 is a good window most of the time, although of course that range doesn't really exist at the grandest places.


Robert Jones

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